Advocacy and openness are vital to success

Advocacy and openness are vital to success

Mark R. Kennedy*
Walls are coming down at a rapid pace despite valiant efforts to prop them up, whether through economic protectionist barriers, societal stigmas, or autocratic governments. National borders can no longer shield countries from the unremitting push to align your economy in a way that can earn its keep in a global economy (hello, Greece) and align your social policies in a manner that embraces pluralism (and Twitter). 

It is important for Turkey that its citizens learn to advocate (whether for commerce, a cause, or their country), that those from other nations become familiar with how best to advocate within Turkey, and that Turkish organizations and governments are receptive to that advocacy. Stilted economic or social rigidities are being washed away by technological advances and ever-deepening globalization. Those who succeed in this increasingly competitive and connected world will be adept at advocating and responsive to advocacy. 

Among the most vital attributes for success as an organization or a country are its openness and receptivity to advocacy – not always agreeing, but letting voices be heard. Change will inevitably come, either abruptly in a disruptive fashion or smoothly over time in a favorable manner. Those listening to diverse views are more likely to become aware of paths to adapting smoothly instead of being confronted by cataclysmic upheaval. As Charles Darwin observed, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” And might I add, most amenable to advocacy.

An important ingredient in American progress is its genuine embrace of other ideas and cultures. Someone whose father was from Kenya leads our nation. A convert from Christianity to Islam represents my state in the U.S. Congress. Turkish-American Ahmet Muhtar Kent leads Coca-Cola and India-born Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi heads PepsiCo. America constantly struggles against inbred prejudices (the kind to which, sadly, Donald Trump is currently appealing). We are at our best when we do not suppress the debate but instead let those of competing views battle it out in public view.  

As openness to advocacy has become more essential; the ability to advocate has become more challenging. Technology has multiplied the voices that are competing for attention on any issue and has accelerated the pace of change in societies around the world. Shaping the debate in the direction you seek has become both more difficult and more critical. Those who commit to master the art and science of advocacy will be increasingly in demand.  

Companies will need advocates that can traverse the nuances of crossing national borders. Causes must be skilled at shaping public attitudes and societal priorities. Countries will need effective ambassadors that can skillfully advance their national interests.

My life experiences have taught me the importance of openness and advocacy. As one of seven children of a working-class family, I only got my way if I could make my point amid the din of my brothers’ and sisters’ competing views and if my mother was receptive to my appeal. After becoming the first boy in my family to graduate from college, I rose rapidly in business only because I was willing to tell my bosses when they were heading in the wrong direction - and they were willing to listen. I succeeded by overcoming the one-in-a-hundred odds of defeating an incumbent congressman by advocating a message to which the electorate responded.

Convinced of the importance of advocacy skills, not just in America, but also around the world, I began the preparation for the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management’s masters in Advocacy in the Global Environment by bringing a group of students to study advocacy in Turkey. Since that first Global Perspective Residency in Istanbul, I have initiated programs in Beijing, Brasilia, Brussels, Hong Kong, London, Sao Paulo, Seoul, and Tokyo. We will soon add several cities in South Africa and Washington, D.C.

Each country has different answers to the questions: 

1) Who has the power to make the decision you seek? 

2) What decision-making criteria will they use? 

3) What channels of communication are available to reach them? 

4) Who are your natural friends and foes? 

By meeting with a broad cross section of academic, business, political, media and NGO leaders, our students leave with wider views, deeper insights.

I have found few things more gratifying in my life than championing openness and passing along the skills of effective advocacy. Let me suggest that as a citizen, a company, or a country, you too will find an embrace of openness and a dedication to advocacy a highly rewarding path. 

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, is chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota, and is an adjunct professor at Koç University Graduate School of Business.